THE greatest excitement generated so far by Ronald Reagan's trip to Japan came when he threw a ceremonial first pitch at a professional baseball championship game and almost hit the batter. The ballgame was also the moment of maximum public exposure the former president and his wife Nancy have received during their eight-day visit here.
Between the relentless efforts of Mr. Reagan's aides to keep him away from the press and the exclusive coverage rights of the Japanese media conglomerate which invited the Reagans, the visit has had little visibility.
The Japanese government, the Reagans' co-host, has eagerly promoted the visit as an antidote to the bitterness that seems to pervade US-Japan relations these days. The eight years of Reagan's presidency are remembered as a period of good times, the ``Ron-Yasu'' era when the president and then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone were on a friendly first-name basis.
Reagan is a ``symbol of US-Japan friendship,'' says Yukio Okamoto, the Foreign Ministry official responsible for organizing the visit. The ministry had hoped that the president would get the message out by holding a press conference. But Reagan, who spent his presidency avoiding such uncontrolled events, refused.
The visit is reportedly costing the Fujisankei Communications Group $6 million to $8 million, including a $2 million fee for the Reagans that critics in the United States have denounced as an unseemly selling of the presidency. In exchange, Fujisankei has received great publicity in the form of exclusive interviews for nationwide television network and daily newspaper, as well as high-glitz speeches before private audiences in Tokyo and Osaka.
The response of the rest of Japan's media has been to avoid giving free coverage to a corporate rival. When the president met Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu and the Reagans lunched Monday with the emperor and empress, the events were not mentioned on the evening television news shows and got little coverage in the morning papers the next day. In turn, the president has tried to oblige his hosts to some extent.
``Japan is a good, solid international friend of the United States,'' he declared at banquet last night before Japan's business and political elite. ``Yes, we have trade differences ... but the ideological basis of our partnership is secure. We see the world much the same way.''
The former president challenged the Japanese to leave a lasting ``legacy'' in the form of aid to Poland to make market reforms possible.
While some American critics depict Japan as a relentless economic adversary, the standard-bearer of Republican conservatism sees Japan as ``an illustration to the world [of] what good people and determination and capitalism can produce.''
In an interview aired last night, the president supported Japanese investment in the US, saying the controversial purchase of Columbia Pictures by Japan's Sony Corporation might actually bring improvement to Hollywood's products by bringing ``back decency and good taste.''